Writing for love 

UM grad makes her way in romance

Veronica slumped in her desk and looked at the clock. It was past midnight and she still had a feature article to copy edit. She dropped her red pen and massaged her fingers. She heard the unmistakable crack of a beer can opening across the room.

Ugh. Johnny, the devil-may-care photo editor, never cared about office decorum. Here he was now, with that impish grin on his face. "You working late too, dollface?" he asked.

Harder than you, she thought. You're all image, no substance. You don't have to care about proper semicolon usage or spelling out one through nine.

Johnny picked up her pen and put it between his lips like a cigarette, flicking the cap with his tongue. As if reading her thoughts, he said, "I know you don't think much of me, but baby, I can teach you the inverted pyramid like you've never seen before."

click to enlarge Missoula Independent news

...Oh. Hey. Don't mind me, I'm just taking a stab at my original romance genre, "AP-style copy editor erotica." I'm following the advice of Missoula-area romance novelist Danica Winters, who says finding your niche is an important part of becoming a successful genre writer. Winters would know: she's been writing paranormal romance for a few years, with published titles like Curse of the Wolf and The Nymph's Labyrinth, and can boast about making Amazon's bestseller lists.

Haters can hate, but the romance novel industry—and it is an industry, with about $1.4 billion in sales in 2011—provides fun and escape for many readers, mostly women, while paying the bills for many authors, mostly women. Yes, romance novels are easy to make fun of, especially because our society loves to deride stuff that's for chicks.

So let's dispense with the mockery, because romance authors face the same difficulty as everyone in a media-related job: The internet has maximized our ability to create and share information, while devaluing creative work and imploding our paychecks. Winters says a book she released in May has already been pirated online at least 20,000 times, mostly by foreign websites.

Winters estimates she spends perhaps four hours writing for every five hours spent on marketing every day, which includes a promotions job for a publisher. To maintain a foothold on a loyal readership, Winters keeps a presence on several sites, including Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and her blog. Her efforts pay off, according to the Romance Writers Association: Liking a particular author is the biggest reason romance readers buy a book.

The amount of exposure also has a drawback. Winters won't reveal her real name for the Indy because of all the men who stalk her online and send her creepy emails. At least she's good humored about it. "My husband just thinks it's funny," she says.

Winters is sore, though, about some of the misperceptions of romance novelists. Her work might be erotic, but it's not porn. "And I have never been on a stripper pole in my life," she says. She's also met with dismissal from the literary side of the Missoula writing scene. And let us not discuss 50 Shades of Grey.

Despite the drawbacks, Winters loves romance writing. After graduating from the University of Montana in 2005 with a bachelor's in anthropology, she wanted to find a line of work that would let her stay in the area and raise her kids, currently a preschooler and a kindergartner. A lifelong romance reader, Winters studied how-to books like Writing a Romance Novel for Dummies and kept sending in manuscripts until a publisher accepted in 2011.

She heartily encourages anyone who wants to get into the business to give it a shot. She's treasurer of Montana Romance Writers, which recently became a chapter of the national RWA. The organizations coach aspiring writers and connect them with agents and publishers. Winters also enjoys meeting with other local authors for a club where they drink wine and read rough drafts to each other (though Winters says she's too embarrassed to read the "hoo-de-hoo" parts out loud).

Romance welcomes a staggering breadth of sub genres, from African American lesbian vampire tales to steampunk gold mining dramas. Winters remembers attending one conference where a male homoerotic author sat next to a Christian-inspirational novelist.

The one thing all romance has in common, of course, is that eventually two characters fall in love. "And that's the way it will always be," Winters says. In an uncertain world, where just about everybody is nervous about how they'll continue to make a living, we can rest assured that at least love will conquer all. In stories, anyway.

Danica Winters signs at Fact and Fiction Sat., Dec. 1 from 12 to 1:30 PM, along with Rionna Morgan, Casey Dawes and Pam Morris. Free.

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